On April 9th the U.S. military stated that they had killed Qari Hikmatullah during an airstrike that occurred on April 5th in the Afghan province of Faryab in the Bal Chiragh district. Hikmatullah was from Uzbekistan and was described as the senior commander of Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), an offshoot of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan and was the main facilitator of fighters into the Jowzjan province. Hikmatullah was replaced by Mawlavi Habibul Rahman who is from Uzbekistan according to NATO.
Hikmatullah first served as leader for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). At that time the IMU swore their allegiance to the Taliban’s emir, Mullah Omar. In 2015, however, a faction of the IMU broke away from the Taliban joining the IS-K after finding out the Taliban had hidden the death of their first emir Mullah Omar for two years. IS-K is made up of former mid-level leaders from the Taliban and IMU.
IS first emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 when NATO troops were leaving the region and transitioning security responsibility to Afghan forces. IS forces overran parts of the Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, and they engaged in a turf war with the Taliban.
On April 15th, 2015 IS claimed their first major attack in Afghanistan killing 35 people in a suicide bombing in the Nangarhar province. A report written by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 said that IS was making inroads in Afghanistan and was recruiting followers in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.
The U.S. military has been targeting IS-K since their inception in 2014. The U.S. has killed the first three emir’s for IS-K within a one-year time span from July of 2016 through July of 2017. The first of these emirs was Hafiz Saeed Khan who was killed during an operation in Nangarhar on July 26th, 2016. The second was Abdul Hasib who died during a joint U.S. Afghan raid in Nangarhar on April 27th, 2017. Last was Abu Sayed who was killed on July 11th, 2017 during an airstrike in Kunar.
In January of 2016 the U.S. State Department designated the IS-K as a terrorist organization. Over a year later, in April of 2017, the U.S. dropped the “Mother of All Bombs”, the largest non-nuclear device ever used in combat, on an IS hideout in Nangarhar killing 90 IS fighters.
The IS-K has since moved north into the Jowzjan province and have committed 14 attacks on Afghan security forces there as well as against Shiites in Kabul. The Russian government has raised concerns over the IS in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials have stated that the group has been adequately checked and is declining in numbers.
The IS-K has been a threat to the Afghan government ever since their emergence in 2014. U.S. forces, however, have crippled the IS-K by killing several of their leaders and continuing to airstrike the regions they operate out of.